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The best educational documentaries for widening your understanding of the world

The best educational documentaries for widening your understanding of the world

The best educational documentaries for widening your understanding of the world
October 10
12:00 2020

Back in April, I wrote about the best crime documentaries and docuseries to watch across the main streaming services. There have been some more crime-based docs to come out since that are well worth the watch (“Jeffery Epstein: Filthy Rich” and “Athlete A” are both on Netflix), but what about nonfiction watches that aren’t about crime? Enter the world of educational docs, which offer insight into myriad social issues through a visually engaging format. If you’re looking to become more well-versed in social issues (which you should) but don’t currently have the time or brain capacity to devote to a lengthy nonfiction book, here are some documentaries to help educate you on the world around us.

For info about technology: “The Social Dilemma” (Netflix)

This is a must-watch for anyone who has found themselves aimlessly scrolling before, as “The Social Dilemma” dives into how and why that happens. Ex-execs from companies like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter explain how social media is controlling us and how media misinformation spreads more easily than you think.

For info about fast fashion: “China Blue” (rent on their website)

“China Blue” follows a 17-year-old worker in a Chinese jean factory, exposing the unethical conditions workers are subjected to by fast-fashion, for-profit corporations. It offers context to how fast fashion brands can afford to sell their items for so cheap, and how our capitalist and consumerist society exploits workers across the globe.

For info on current human rights violations: “Welcome to Chechnya” (HBO)

Members of the LGBTQ+ community in Chechnya, a Russian republic, are fleeing for their lives. It’s not uncommon for individuals to be abducted by the government, tortured, and quietly disposed of. “Welcome to Chechnya” follows organizations like the Russian LGBT Network as they fight to save LGBTQ+ persons from death.

For info on the voting system: “All In: The Fight for Democracy” (Amazon Prime)

Produced by Stacey Abrams, “All In” is as timely as ever, given we are days away from arguably the most monumental election of our lifetime. The doc is a call to action for citizens to demand change in our voting system and consider how voter suppression influences the fate of our democracy.

For info on the climate crisis: “Chasing Ice” (rent on iTunes)

Following the team on the Extreme Ice Survey, “Chasing Ice” chronicles the rapid loss of glacier ice amid the current climate crisis. It is insightful, urgent and devastating — powerful enough to convince anyone still a climate skeptic.

For info on the natural world: “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” (Netflix)

Attenborough gives us a look at how humanity and nature interact. Pretty much every issue surrounding the environment is depicted here as Attenborough dives into pollution, deforestation and the extinction of animals. It’s a grim look at the environmental dystopia that awaits — yet still inspires us to fight for a sustainable future.

For info on the food industry and animal rights: “Food, Inc.” (Hulu)

How much do you really think about where your food comes from? Probably not enough, but this documentary aims to shed light on the food industry and the often unethical treatment of the animals we eat and the farmers we rely on. It’s a rude awakening for America’s monopolized and corporate food enterprises, and there’s also a lot of helpful info for individuals who want to be more health-conscious.

For info on LGBTQ+ rights: “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” (Netflix)

While the documentary reexamines the circumstances of Johnson’s death, it also offers insight into her life and her achievements for the LGBTQ+ community. It is an evaluation of the history of the gay rights movement, one that recognizes the individuals who were influential in the gay liberation movement and how they were pushed aside.

For info on immigration: “Who is Dayani Cristal?” (rent on iTunes)

After human remains are found in Arizona’s Sonara Desert, director Marc Silver follows officials as they attempt to identify the remains. This nonfiction story is supplemented by a dramatized series of events, in which actor Gael García Bernal interacts with real people who share their own stories. It’s a very humanized look at the plight of immigrants, and the documentary “Crossing Arizona” is a great supplement to this.

For info on international women’s rights: “Period. End of Sentence.” (Netflix)

This doc follows Indian women fighting the stigma surrounding menstruation as they make sanitary products more accessible to women. It’s a sobering look at how resources often taken for granted in the U.S. are not widely available across the globe, and the empowerment that can come from destigmatizing periods.

For info on racism and mass incarceration:”13th” (Netflix)

I already mentioned this documentary by Ava DuVernay in my article about nonfiction resources for understanding racial injustice, and I’m bringing it up again because it’s one of the best for understanding this complex system in a thorough yet straightforward way. Angela Davis, Cory Booker, Bryan Stevenson and more break down how the 13th amendment turned slavery into the prison system.

Featured image: Courtesy Netflix

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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